Is it OK to fish the Farmington in low summer flows?

I received a great question today: “How about a straight answer about fishing the river at the level it is at right now. I was told I’m crazy for staying away – my thought is it’s not good for the fish or the fisherman. Be honest please.” I’m assuming the question is about the Farmington.

Those of you who know me know I have nothing to sell you but the truth. So here we go.

The simple answer is: most of the time, yes. The Farmington is, after all, a tailwater. If you’re unsure what that means, its flow is generated by a bottom dam release, in this case Hogback Reservoir. In an average year, the reservoir will have a good amount of water in it, such that the bottom strata will be much cooler than the surface. I can tell you from experience that I’ve shivered for hours in the river on a 90 degree day in July. That water is plenty cold.

Fog is what happens when frosty water meets warm, humid air. This shot is from mid-summer.

Morning Fog

What happens in a drought year? In the most extreme years, it can get ugly. Go back to our most recent severe drought year, 2016. The water release was in the paltry double digits, and because there was so little water in the reservoir, what was coming out of the chute was in the mid 60s — not good. Take that water, bake it over several miles, and we had fish kills. The DEEP even declared thermal refuges, unprecedented for the Farmington River. I advised people to not fish.

So what about right now? The release is 118cfs, not great, but it’s coming out cold (the Still is adding 12cfs for a total of 130) as we had plenty of water this spring. Where you fish matters. The run from Hogback to Riverton right is plenty healthy for fish. Naturally, it will warm as it travels downstream. The water may be stressful to trout by the time it gets to Unionville. But every day is different — today it’s cloudy and in the upper 70s, not exactly a river-under-a-heat lamp. If it were sunny and blast-furnace hot, you’d have a different dynamic.

When you fish matters, too. From dawn through when the sun tops the trees is the coolest the river will be on any given summer day.

In conclusion: Use the stoutest tippet you can to get those fish in fast. Don’t take them out of the water. Fish when and where the water is coolest. Use common sense, and you’ll fish with a clear conscience.

 

Loch-Style Fly Fishing in Scotland: Kate McClaren, I think I love you

I’d been to Scotland before. My Nana and Grandpa, two off-the-boat Scots, took me when I was ten years old. Now, nearly fifty years later, I was going back with my wife and kids.

Chanelling my inner Scotsman. Nae kilt for me, but surely there’s an auld angler within each of us who fishes traditional wet flies.

ScotsChanelling

Although this was a family trip, it seemed a moral imperative to not only fish, but to fly fish in the homeland of my forefathers. And if I could catch a trout on an ancient or traditional Scottish wet fly pattern, that would immeasurably sweeten the pot. So, where and how to do this? I ruled out Salmon fishing: cost-prohibitive and a greater chance of failure than success (maybe next time). So trout it was. Buddy Matt Supinski hooked me up with Graeme Ferguson, and we made plans this past spring for August 9.

Well, that’s the thing about booking so far in advance in a land thousands of miles away: you play the weather and conditions lottery. And my goodness, did we lose. Cam and I have a knack for choosing disaster weather on fishing trips, and we nailed this one dead center. The forecast called for heavy rain and 10-20mph winds. The Scots call it dreich. That sounds about right.

Brown, swollen rivers meant loch fishing — or in this case, lake fishing. Our mark was Lake Menteith, the only lake in country of lochs. Now, stillwater fishing is not my bag, but I was willing to try. And so we launched in a driving rainstorm accompanied by banshee winds. What the hell — the fish don’t know it’s wet.

We started off with sink tip lines and teams of three flies. I had the first touch, but I didn’t really know what to look for in a take. A botched hook set proved to be my downfall. A while later, Cam was on. If it looks wet and wicked and wild, it was. But a bent rod tends to make you oblivious to the conditions.

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Attaboy, Cam! Trip bought and paid for. These landlocked rainbows reminded me of junior steelhead in temperment and leaping capability. They’re also not shy about going deep — we had several fish sound on us as if the lake were bottomless. This fish took Cam’s point fly, a very Nuke Egg-like day-glo pattern.

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Are we having fun yet? We’d launched around 9:30, and three hours later the rain was dissipating. Graeme suggested we break for lunch, so we headed back to the clubhouse to dry out and re-fortify. A most civilized menu: Carrot/leek/corriander soup (a triumph, Mrs. Ferguson!), meat pie, and scotch eggs (hard boiled, surrounded by sausage, bread crumb coating, decadent).

HappyAnglers

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Two critical events turned the afternoon tide in our favor: conditions improved (the rain stopped, it warmed up, hatches began, and the trout showed on the surface to feed) and I managed to fire up — in the wind, no small task with matches — a beloved Partagas Serie D No. 4. Floating lines on, first stop, bang! I’m on. You can see from the glassy water just below my elbow that we’re fishing in the shallow water of a cove, sheltered from the blow. We’d drift where the wind took us, adjusting as needed. Graeme also brought a subsurface drogue chute — brilliant! — that when deployed slowed our drift. 

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I bagged another one not ten minutes after the above photo was taken. We moved to a mark where a wee burn was dumping colder water into the lake. I decided to clip off one of Graeme’s buzzers (UK for midge larva) and tie on a fly I’d tied and brought with me, the traditional loch bob fly Kate McLaren. One of the beauties of fishing a team of three is that you often don’t know which fly the fish chose until you land it. Fish on, battle fought and won, and as Graeme netted it, he announced, “You’ll never guess which fly she took. The Kate McLaren.” I loved that fly, that moment, and especially that fish so much I decided to give her a kiss. The trout may look traumatized, but she swam away no worse for the wear.

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Final tally was four for dad, two for Cam, and one very happy father-son team. Our boat, #4 (coincidence?) was a fine vessel. I can’t say enough good things about our guide, Graeme Ferguson: professional, matey, courteous, knowledgeable, capable, and his wife makes incredibly delicious soup. Here’s his contact information: graemeferguson_82@hotmail.com. He does rivers and salmon, too. Highly recommended. Tell him Steve sent ‘ya.

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Back from the land of the Lochs

Where have I been? Scotland. And now, I’m back. I hope you’ve all been catching some trout, smallies, stripers, brookies, or whatever your current favorite is.  I was busy sightseeing, eating, sampling whisky, and smoking Cuban cigars. Oh. Yes. There was some fishing, too. But you’ll have to wait for that story.

It’s gorgeous even when its blowing 15mph and the rain is sheeting sideways.

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We have much to catch up on: the Scotland report, the ASMFC meeting, the remote possibility of me being able to guide for the rest of the month, upcoming gigs…so stay tuned. In the mean time, I need to answer 579 emails and pull 432,812 weeds. And sleep. Thanks for your patience.

Housy Report 8/1/19: Ladies & Gentlemen, start your White Wulffs!

The White Fly hatch is officially on! I experienced a heavy blizzard last night below the TMA beginning at 8:45pm. Up until then, the fishing was slow, with a handful of bass coming to surface (Gurgler and Countermeasure) patterns. Decent size fish in the 10-12″ class. But not a lot in terms of numbers. Water was 78 degrees, 250cfs and less stained than yesterday. Same bite pattern: waning as it got darker. Then the White Flies came.

It starts like this…

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If you’re a White Fly newbie, this is a big (size 8-12) mayfly that hatches as dusk, then forms a dense cloud of mating activity, such that it looks like it’s snowing big, chunky flakes. If you turn your headlamp on, they will inundate you (they don’t taste very good — ask me how I know). It’s a late July/early August hatch, and when it’s going the bass will key on the insect to the exclusion of larger offerings. Wet flies swung pre-hatch and chunky dries like the White Wulff, Usual, and Light Cahill will serve you well. (You’ll want to tie those dries on stout hooks.) If you’re fishing spinners they have very long tails, twice the length of the hook shaft.

The hatch can be fickle and come and go, so jump on it this weekend.

…and before you know it, it’s snowing in August. All I had to do during last night’s hatch was pick a rise ring, make a drift over it, use the bucket method of strike detection, then set the hook. I took many fish on a flat that was only a foot deep. Don’t let those dainty, tiny sipping rise rings fool you — with the exception of one fish, every smallie I connected with at dark was in the double-digits length class.

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Housy Smallie Mini Report 7/31/19: No falling in, no white flies

Another quick-hit mission to the Hous. Fished from 7:20pm-8:45pm and the action was much better than earlier in the week, if still not spectacular. This year’s weird pattern continues: instead of a building feeding frenzy with a crescendo at dark, the bulk of the bigger fish came when there was still plenty of light. No white flies yet, but I would think that will happen this weekend. Water was a little below average cfs and 78 degrees, light stain. Some decent sized bass, but no monsters — biggest were in the foot-long range, a very respectable size. Fished subsurface (TeQueely) and on top (Gurgler and Countermeasures). Did take a couple right at 8:45, but they weren’t huge.

Dolomieu the Leaper.

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Don’t neglect the frog water-like shallows. This brute hit the Gurgler in a about a foot of water, right after the bug landed.

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Secrets to Catching Bigger Smallmouth on the Housatonic

It’s the time of year when this question begins to flood my mailbox: “I’m catching a ton of little smallmouth bass. Where do I go on the Housatonic to find the bigger fish?”

There’s no single, simple answer. And it’s not just a matter of where. It’s also when. And how. Here are a few tips to help you catch the big one.

It’s 8:15pm. Do you know where your trophy Housy smallie is? My money’s on “at the business end of a Countermeasure.”

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– Fish near deep(er) water access. Big smallmouth like the cover and security that deep water provides. Picture them hanging out on the bottom of a deep hole during peak daylight. They didn’t get to be big by accident.
– Your chances of catching a big smallmouth bass increase exponentially as the day transitions into night. There will come a point where the bite will shut down, which is usually about the time you can no longer see your fly.
– Target shallows in low light, particularly shallows near deep water. Like many predators, big bass will move onto flats as twilight builds. They’re feeding with confidence under the cover of darkness. Last week as I was walking out of the river at 8:45pm, I nearly stepped on a monster smallie that was cruising in about a foot of water.
– Take the road less traveled. There are often rich rewards awaiting those willing to walk. If you were a big smallmouth, where would you be? Finding the answer to that question is half the fun.
– Cull the pipsqueaks with bigger flies. Four inches is a good cutoff point. Some of the little guys may want to fight outside their weight class, but often can’t get the hook in their mouth.
– Land your fly with a splat! For example, when I’m fishing a Countermeasure, I like to give it a noisy landing on soft water. Big bass will frequently crash the fly moments after it hits.
– This goes without saying: put in your time. The more you fish, the more chances you’ll have to hook up with a big one.

Dusk can be a magic time, but the big fish bite window is sometimes frustratingly short. 

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Farmy Mini Report 7/22/19: Not all change is good

I guided Rand and his son Sam yesterday and the break in the heat didn’t seem to do the fishing — make that catching — any favors. We pounded two confidence-is-high runs with nymphs for three hours and only managed to stick one trout. Bug activity was virtually nil. Then we switched to wets and found only one more fish willing to jump on. We didn’t see another trout caught in four hours on the water. Kudos to Rand and Sam for persevering through a tough bite window. Multiple hookups and tight lines for both of you to come!

Rand swinging his wets over some holding water.

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Like father, like son. A pleasure, gentlemen!

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I had a 20 minute window on the way home so I jumped into some snotty pocket water about 1-2 feet deep to swing wets. Here, the trout were open for business, and I managed three wild stunners, one on each of the flies, a size 12 Squirrel and Ginger top dropper, a size 14 Drowned Ant, and a size 12 Gray Hackle. So maybe that kind of water and method was the key to yesterday, although it was not an appropriate run for inexperienced waders.

The first wild brown came on the S&G.

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My wife says the halos are gold. I’d say the entire fish is worthy of such lucre. Last brown, taken on the Gray Hackle.

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